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San Bernardino hits the restart button on Carousel Mall

San Bernardino has moved back to square one in its effort to redevelop the Carousel Mall property.

After a dozen years of trying to come up with a plan to restore the now-abandoned downtown property, the city council on May 3 voted 5-2 to sever all ties with the developer it hired three years ago to take on that task, Renaissance Downtowns USA/ ICO Real Estate Group.

That entity, formally known as the San Bernardino Development Co. will receive $100,000 from the city in exchange for having its exclusive negotiating agreement with the city terminated prematurely.

Council members Juan Figueroa, Sandra Ibarra, Theodore Sanchez, Ben Reynoso, and Fred Shorett voted in favor of the measure. Damon Alexander and Kimberly Calvin cast the dissenting votes.

That move was necessary so San Bernardino officials can deal with several violations of state law related to the project identified by the state Department of Housing and Community Development. Those violations threaten to delay the redevelopment of the site and the city has about two months to fix.

“We plan to work closely with the housing and community development to resolve these matters,” Sanchez said. “They will guide us through the process.”

During the council meeting, interim City Manager Charles E. McNeely reaffirmed that commitment.

“We are committed to fixing those problems, and we recognize that we have some work to do on this project,” McNeeley told the council. “Our residents should know that we’re moving forward aggressively and that we aren’t losing any time.”

The violation that poses the biggest threat to the Carousel Mall project involves San Bernardino running afoul of the state’s surplus land act, which requires that 15 percent of a project like the restoration of the 43-acre Carousel Mall property be offered to developers of affordable housing.

The violation occurred when the city reached its development agreement with Renaissance/ICO Real Estate about two months before the Carousel Mall property was declared surplus land, according to a letter the state received two months ago from housing and community development.

The department, which determines housing and building codes, said San Bernardino also failed to conduct “good faith negotiations” with either of the two affordable housing developers who expressed interest in the mall property.

As a result, the state agency rescinded its approval of San Bernardino’s plan to develop commercial, residential, and retail on the vacant downtown site, which was shut down permanently in 2017 and is now surrounded by a fence.

“We put the cart before the horse,” said Sanchez, who represents the first district, in which Carousel Mall is located. “We had a development agreement in place before we did anything about affordable housing, which the state wants to be built in order to help solve the housing crisis.

“We did some things out of sequence, and now we have to find a new developer. [Renaissance/ICO Real Estate] is welcome to resubmit another bid, but I think we’re probably going to go in another direction.”

Ending the exclusive negotiating agreement with Renaissance/ICO Real Estate and working with Housing and Urban Development would resolve all of the violations and allow the project to move forward, according to a staff report.

Should Renaissance/ICO submit another bid, it would have to register with Housing and Urban Development as a developer of affordable housing, a status it does not have. Without that they can hold no negotiations, Sanchez said.

San Bernardino, which owns the site next to Interstate 215, was approached by two affordable housing builders, but no talks were held because both wanted to develop only part of the property. San Bernardino wants to sell all 43 acres to one developer, which will make the entire development project easier to manage.

“Once they heard that condition they were no longer interested,” Sanchez said. “They dropped out. We really didn’t refuse to negotiate with them.”

Dropping Renaissance/ICO Real Estate will not delay the project, which San Bernardino officials regard as vital to the city’s economic future, according to Sanchez.

“With everything that has to be done on that site – soil cleanup, building roads, bringing in gas, electricity, and water – it’s going to take about five years to develop no matter what we decide to do,” Sanchez said.

No member of the development group attended the council meeting. However, Donald Monti, president, and chief executive officer of Renaissance Downtowns USA, made his feelings known in a letter that was read aloud during that session.

“[Renaissance/ICO Real Estate] has exceeded all requirements under the exclusive negating agreement,” Monti wrote. “The city council is contemplating taking action which is completely contrary to both the spirit and letter of our agreement.

“Many concerns have been brought to the attention of the entire city council and mayor, and it is alarming that in light of this, the city would even consider an abandonment of its legal obligations.”

The letter asks the city to “act responsibly and in good faith,” then raises the possibility of legal action by stating that “the interim city manager and each member of the city council consider the ramifications that will flow from approval of this ill-conceived and hastily-made recommendation.”

Despite the $100,000 payment, the possibility of Renaissance/ICO Real Estate filing a lawsuit hangs over the entire project.

“We hope that doesn’t happen, but we know that it could,” Sanchez said. “The demolition is going to happen, which is a major step, and we’re trying to move forward. I hope Don Monti doesn’t us backward by dragging us into an expensive lawsuit.”

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5 comments

  1. I believe this is a pack of crap The carousel Mall was a landmark in San Bernardino. City council and army o basically failed this cuz that mall is a landmark and has been here forever everybody knows about the carousel Mall when you go out of state And people ask you where you’re from you say San Bernardino and people always say that’s what they got that big old carousel inside the mall. Knowing ever talks about the raggedy inland center mall no one likes to listen to them all it has nothing to do The carousel had a ton of things to do places to eat and they sacrifice a landmark for nothing more like the inland center I feel like we need better city council and we most definitely need a better mayor cuz San Bernardino truly needs to be great again you got people that don’t really care about San Bernardino sitting on the board making decisions for our city it ain’t none of the cities they make good.

  2. Make it a homeless shelter. When the weather is bad, they are human beings, and voter’s. Do something rite for a change.

  3. This city government has been corrupt for decades.

    Two-faced to our local restaurants and businesses, especially outsiders.

    This current action, would have not taken place IF it wasn’t for the California State Housing Urban
    Development… Only this agency put a stop to another corrupt act of the City of San Bernardino, California.

    Question is when are the voters going to wake up and vote those crooked officials OUT of office.

    P.S. if I recall correctly there is only one new face on the council that of a young man. That was voted in cause he was new-blood (non touched) by the crooked officials.

  4. Please forgive my ignorance, but it seems to me that the designation of the city of San Bernardino as a city for “affordable housing” is what doomed the city from the beginning. True, it seems an altruistic endeavor which should be lauded by its residents, but the intended benefit has unfortunately been long lost to the dereliction of its neighborhoods, realizing only poverty, decay, and rampant crime. San Bernardino is in serious need of a re-defining of its mission statement. Our leaders need a new vision, to raise this city up from the ashes and make it into a place where people WANT to live. First, weed out corruption in all its hideous forms. Use the tax-payers revenue in a fiscally responsible way to improve the city. Re-build the police department to make the city streets safe! Remove homeless encampments and provide a path to permanent housing. Start by temporarily placing them at the NOS Center, Damus and Orange Pavilion venues, as needed. Provide security, cots, a place to shower, clean clothes and basic meals. Then have triage LVN’s on-hand to begin a process towards detox and medical care. The goal should be to place them in jobs and housing where dignity can be restored. The overall goal should be to radically transform San Bernardino into a city of hope, health, and happiness! This lofty goal can be met with the help of corporate sponsors, an army of volunteers, and community involvement, Host community building events with live entertainment here modest ticket proceeds and donations help fund the city’s revival!

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